Firefighters induct Mercer's first chief into hall of fame

August 06, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - The late William Wayne Watts was one of the first six people inducted into the Kentucky Firefighters Association Hall of Fame last week.

Watts, who died in 1997, was never a professional firefighter; he always served as a volunteer in various fire departments in Harrodsburg and Mercer County. The award, which included a banner with Watts' name, the year and the Hall of Fame, was presented to his widow, Betty Watts.

Just spend a few minutes with Mrs. Watts and it is clear how proud she is of her husband, who died while serving as KFA's treasurer.

"To be in this first class of the hall of fame is a tremendous honor when you consider that the organization itself is 83 or 84 years old," Mrs. Watts said today. "Wayne would have been so proud to have been in the same class as his friends who have devoted so many years to the fire service.


"Wayne was most proud that his entire 51 years in the fire service was done through volunteerism."

Watts began his service as a firefighter in 1946 as a member of the Harrodsburg Volunteer Fire Department. When the Mercer County Fire Department was established in 1954, he was its first fire chief.

When it began, the department had only one truck. It has grown to volunteer departments across the county. When he retired as chief, he continued to serve on the Mercer County Fire District board and was its chairman at the time of his death. He was never paid for his service to the fire department and the community it served.

Firefighters from across the state came to his funeral

Watts' importance to state firefighters was evident at his funeral. The roads in Spring Hill Cemetery were filled with red and white cars with names of fire departments from one end of Kentucky to the other. A stone memorial to him stands outside the door of Central Station fire department on Morris Drive.

Watts was named to the KFA Hall of Fame along with five other men who have been instrumental in firefighting across Kentucky. They were:

* Arnold Neuenschwander, the first president of the KFA. He was elected at the organization's first meeting in 1919 and served as president until his death in 1924.

* Robert Habbeler, who served as KFA secretary for 16 years, is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a member of the Fort Wright Fire Department.

* Earl McDaniel joined the Lexington Fire Department in 1941 and was named chief in late 1949. He held several positions in the KFA. He retired from the Lexington Fire Department in 1986 and died in 1991.

* Sylvan Smith is serving his 47th year in fire and emergency service. He has served as chairman of the Northern Kentucky Firefighters Association and the KFA. He is vice chairman of the state fire commission.

* Pat Trevathan is marking his 50th year in public service. He was the first president of the Jackson Purchase Firefighters Association. He served 27 years with state fire rescue training. He also served as KFA parliamentarian for 12 years.

Betty Watts was joined by her son, Bill, and daughter, Judy, in accepting the award on Wayne Watts' behalf.

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